just flew back from there this morning and felt the need to share info as I went overthere without a clue about what it would really be like…
2 economies – one for tourists (CUC – Peso convertible – $) and one for the locals (CUP – Pesos Cubanos). Be careful not to get ripped off. CUC works out at almost same exchange rate as the US dollar to the Pound so a lot of things actually cost the same in cuba as they do in the UK – eg. Cups of coffee, meals, daily essentials. If you attempt to buy food from a Cuban Peso outlet, insist on take away otherwise they’ll seat you and charge you 40 pesos for a pizza (almost £2) instead of 5 pesos!
Always make sure you have brought enough cash. ATMs are difficult to come by and when you find one it will 80% of the time be out of service! Mon-sat you can walk into a bank with a visa card and they’ll withdraw money on that but forget it if you have a card for an American bank. American dollars are no go in Cuba and exchanging them will cost you 10% on top of the value.
Learn as much Spanish as you can if you dont know any cos this will help when haggling taxi fares and avoiding bumped up prices
Take things with you that we take for granted – plasters, paracetamol, hand soap, tissues etc. i was in a motorbike accident out there and ended up getting my wounds taken care of in a Cuban hospital for free but taking care of the dressings afterwards was a difficult experience as you cant just walk into a chemist there and expect them to have what you need. Also make sure you’ve had your jabs. I never thought an accident would happen to me and it could have been much worse!
Stay at a Casa Particulare – Cubans are so friendly and accommodating. Again, If I knew a bit more Spanish I would have enjoyed the experience more as we would have been able to have better conversations. And not everyone can speak English contrary to what people who just go to tourist resorts will tell you. Take little presents with you for them – bars of chocolate, sweets, pens, soap etc. Casas are also roughly half the price of a decent hotel per night.
Although Cubans are friendly people, some areas are prone to hustlers – Old town havana!!! – and you should just walk away and decline politely. Whenever I approached a local for help and advice they were only too happy to give it and one guy even walked me up a hill in the dark with his asthma inhaler in one hand to show me how to get to a cavern disco (dont ask!)
Um… what else… If you dont like what Fidel and Che Guevara stood for, dont go to Cuba. Similarly, Bush fans, keep away, you wont get any sympathy and being a patriotic lot, any anti-communist feelings will get you nowhere with the Cubans.
Mixed couples be prepared for lots of stares. I was mistaken for being Cuban everywhere I went and me and my white partner were looked at quizzically everywhere we went, if you cant prove you’re not Cuban you wont be rented a room in any casa or tourist hotel (this nearly happened to us!)
If you’re backpacking around the island, Viazul is the way to go. The Astro buses are for the Cubans and even though about 4 seats are reserved per bus for tourists, you will still be charged in CUC so better to go with Viazul although Astro does travel off the beaten track. There are also ‘colectivo’ taxis that will take you places for the same price as the bus and can be better as you dont have to stick to a fixed timetable then or you can get to places without having to wait for a connecting bus per se. You can usually arrange these at the Viazul bus station too.
Sure there’s lots more I could tell you but fighting jet lag right now…!